Standard Disclaimer: If you’re not quite up to speed in the literacy or mathematics department, have no fear—I will offer a clear and concise explanation of all material covered. It should also be noted that I do welcome any and all emails on these matters.
In any given matchup, there are a number of questions that must be answered. How many cards must I keep in my hand? Which threats should I counter? Am I a control player or a beatdown player? Is my opponent bluffing? When should I use my global/single removal spells? What is the probability of my opponent having an answer to my card effect?
When caught up in the heat of battle, time is rarely taken to analyze those kinds of questions. “Just why am I making this choice?” is the optimal question to ask. Granted, no one would have the time to finish a game if everything that should be considered at length was considered at length. That’s why I’m here, and if you’re able to wade through the murky depths of this article, you’ll be well on your way to seeing a more complex and diverse Yu-Gi-Oh! universe than you ever have before.
When a person walks into a restaurant, sits down, and stares at a menu, one rarely takes the full number of choices into consideration. One usually arrives in the restaurant with an idea of what kind of food he or she is looking for—there is a predetermined notion about the question, “what shall I have to eat?” This predetermination narrows down the diner’s choices, and with a limited number of options, that person can quickly and efficiently decide what he or she wants. In Yu-Gi-Oh!, the principle is the same. For example, a person decides to play a Warrior-themed deck. With a card list of all available Warriors in front of that person, he or she can then select which Warriors to place in the deck. The reasons for selecting specific cards aren’t important at this time, but the fact that cards get selected at all is, because this player is new to the game. That’s right; this player (we’ll call him Timmy for now) has just learned how to play. Timmy’s buddies convinced him that Yu-Gi-Oh! was the coolest thing on the planet, and now he’s excited to become a part of the action. Maybe he even watched a few episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! for good measure (after all, how can you play without watching at least a few of the episodes?). Timmy is a new player, so he picked cards arbitrarily—some because he liked the artwork and some because his friends told him to play them. After a couple of games, however, Timmy begins to think that the cards his friends picked for him may not be the best cards, after all. He begins to see the cards in a whole new way. He starts to notice ATK and DEF values on monsters. He notices how some effects seem better suited to specific strategies than others. His eyes open to the very real possibility that he won’t become the “King of Games” anytime soon. In his mind, his choices just became narrower.
Let’s look at the restaurant example again. What if the diner comes into the restaurant wanting steak? If that person is at a steak-house, there will be many choices. This person has never eaten steak, and so cannot decide what to choose. Consequently, the diner asks for the waiter’s opinion. The waiter’s suggestions narrow down the diner’s options, allowing the diner to make a decision. Sometime later, the waiter returns with the steak. After the first bite, the diner discovers that the meat is too tough to chew and notifies the waiter, who says, “so sorry, it’s company policy to cook all steaks well-done if the customer doesn’t specify a preference.” Of course, this was information the diner did not have. This was, after all, the diner’s first time in a steak-house.
Again, the same principle applies to Yu-Gi-Oh! (and all other trading card games, for that matter). These are called games of incomplete information. (Incomplete information is not to be confused with imperfect information, in which players do not perfectly observe the actions of other players.)
In a game of complete information, all players are perfectly informed about all payoffs or rewards for all possible scenarios. Some examples would be a game of chicken, chess, or checkers. In all of the above games, players know about each others’ moves. They are physically able to see the repercussion of each play. If, however, a player is uncertain of payoffs or rewards for other players, the game is one of incomplete information. In an incomplete information setting, players may not possess full information about their opponents (such as not knowing what is in a player’s hand or deck). In particular, players may possess private information that the others should take into account when forming expectations about how that player may behave. For example, let’s say you activate Confiscation and it resolves. Confiscation allows you to see your opponent’s hand and discard one card from it. After doing so, you’ll possess private information about your opponent that will help you to form an expectation of how your opponent will play the remaining cards.
Of course, knowing this won’t win you games, but it helps you to understand the two major problems that lie at the core of the game (and indeed, the core of any game of incomplete information).
1. Lack of information about payoffs
2. Ambiguity about payoffs
So, why are these two separate points? A mathematical definition will help us to understand the difference. Lack of information would mathematically indicate that a formula of probability regarding possible outcomes must first be calculated. That represents lack of information about payoffs. Once you’ve calculated your probabilities, you can determine the impact of an outcome on the opponent, which refers to the second point, payoff ambiguity. Another example would illustrate this point better. Let’s say that I activate Delinquent Duo, pay 1000 life points, and select one of the cards in your hand to discard. You then select another card to discard. What impact will this have on you? Well, the only information I have is that you discarded two cards. I do not know the rest of your hand. Even though I may be excited about the card I was able to get rid of, that does not determine the outcome of the game. Let’s say that I discarded your Sinister Serpent with my Delinquent Duo, and you pitched your Minar monster card. Now Sinister Serpent will return to your hand, and Minar will deal 1000 damage to me because it was discarded from the hand with my effect (opponent’s effect). Was there a payoff? Yes, though it was a negative one for me. Still, unless it ends the game, the question of payoff is indeed ambiguous. For this reason, I like to call this concept the Uncertainty Principle (UCP for short).
The Uncertainty Principle brings up another interesting subject, probability, which I’ll explore in my next article.
At this point, you may be wondering why you have now read over 1500 words, and yet still feel as if you’ve learned nothing about how to be a better Yu-Gi-Oh! plyaer. Keep in mind that certain key concepts, such as tempo and card advantage, must be understood before we can discuss direct game-related theory. I challenge all duelists to start considering why you make certain choices in your games. I promise that as you dissect that information, you will become a better player.